There was something in the air on Crewsmas, and it wasn’t just the chill of a February 26 start to the season, a date two days earlier than even the famed La Guerra Fria against Mexico at Historic Crew Stadium in 2001. No, this was something imperceptible in the moment that only became apparent after the fact.
Saturday marked by first trip to Lower.com Field since the stadium opener last July. This meant it was my first time there since the smokestack had been painted, so I snapped a picture of it in all its bold yellow-gold glory.
A man and his wife walked by.
“We’re going to see a lot of smoke out of that today,” he said, anticipating the celebratory plumes that waft out of the smokestack after each Crew goal.
A short while later, Jordan Angeli and I sat at a table in the press area conversing after not seeing each other since last year. Crew President and GM Tim Bezbatchenko happened to walk by, and as he did, he said a quick hello to us and asked Jordan what exactly is the color of her sweatshirt. She replied, “Let’s just call it highlighter pink, for all the highlights we’re going to see today.”
Three hours later, the smokestack had triumphantly goldened the Columbus skyline on four occasions as the Crew generated highlights galore in a 4-0 demolition of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Forget Crewsmas miracles. I had unwittingly encountered multiple Crewsmas oracles.
I suppose there was a Crewsmas miracle too. Just days after head coach Caleb Porter noted the Crew were unlikely to lead the league in goals based on their budget, not only did the Crew score four goals, but none of them were a Lucas Zelarayan free kick, which was often 2021’s feast amidst famine. (Of course, despite their four-goal eruption in the season opener, Porter is still correct as the Crew somehow don’t lead the league in goals because FC Cincinnati exists and comically surrendered five goals to lowly Austin. Ohio MLS is truly a Tale of Two Cities. Columbus is nine goals ahead of Cincinnati on goal differential after one game!)
Upstart Miguel Berry, whose torrid second half last year earned him a start over established Crew star Gyasi Zardes, put the Crew ahead in the 8th minute on a deflected shot. It was a crazy double-doink. Berry’s initial shot was on frame, got deflected on a trajectory that would have seen the ball sail wide of the goal, but deflected again off another Whitecap and wrongfooted the goalkeeper on its way into the net. Since the initial shot was on frame at the time of the first deflection, it was still a valid goal. When Columbus Dispatch beat writer Jacob Myers joked to Berry that he couldn’t believe they gave him credit instead of an own goal, Berry laughed and said, “Of course they should have! I totally knew what I was doing there!”
As once was said, ““One hundred percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”—Wayne Gretzky”—Michael Scott.”
For a team that was so down on its luck in 2021, a double-doink was just what the doctor ordered.
The Crew doubled their advantage in the 25th minute when newcome Yaw Yeboah drilled a left-footed cross from the right flank that hit Derrick Etienne Jr right in stride. Etienne calmly brough the ball down in the box and whack it into the net with the outside of his right foot. Yeboah put his stamp on his Crew debut and the wide-open Etienne did the sometimes psychologically difficult task of making something easy look easy. It was a textbook trap and finish.
The Crew tacked on two late goals by Luis Diaz and Lucas Zelarayan, and when it was over, the Crew snapped an eight-game winless streak against the Whitecaps and beat them for the first time since 2011. Strange, but true!
Let’s take a quick moment to revel in the gorgeousness of the new Gold Standard Kit. It restored the Crew to their traditional look, except for the new logo. But even the new logo looks infinitely better on a yellow background than on any other color.
The most important thing is the banana kit is back and it felt wonderful to see. And the Crew delivered a golden performance worthy of its return.
Not sure what was up with the Whitecaps, but it seemed like for most of the match, every second ball found the Crew. Even it was a deflection or a ball squirting out of a crowd, there just always seemed to be someone in yellow waiting to scoop up the loose ball.
Whether it was a case of lucky bounces or the Crew anticipating correctly all afternoon, or more likely a combination of the two, it was a noticeable part of the Crew’s domination.
Also, there were a staggering number of times Crew runners found themselves wide open. I mean the kind of wide open that you hope to see once a game. It seemed like there were several such instances of “OMFG how is he so wide open” on Saturday, most notably on Etienne’s goal.
Whether it was the Crew’s execution or lapses by the Whitecaps, or more likely a combination of the two, it was another notable part of the Crew’s domination.
The Crew’s 2021 midfield was decimated by injuries, most notably to Artur and Aidan Morris. Both players returned on Saturday, combining to share 90 minutes between them as Morris subbed on for Artur in the 69th minute.
Porter was happy to have two valuable pieces back on the field.
“Both those guys, and I said it last year, our massive toward how we play,” he said. “I’ve never seen a good team that doesn’t have a midfield ball-winner. Marlon (Hairston) became that for us last year and that’s why we played him, but Artur is a different level of quality on both sides of the ball and a huge leader. And the chemistry. I think you saw the chemistry between him, Darlington, and Lucas. 2020, when we won MLS Cup, that was probably the best midfield in the league. I always feel like the games are decided centrally. That’s the engine room and that’s where the build-up happens and that’s also where we’re ball-winning and where you rip the heart out of the opponent. I just thought it looked fluid and cohesive like we thought it would.”
Miguel Berry was happy to see Morris and Artur back on the field, and summed up Artur’s return thusly: “He makes us the Columbus Crew again.”
By that, he means the 2020 MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew.
Despite the frigid temperatures, the Crewsmas gathering consisted of 18,939 souls at Lower.com Field. At the conclusion of his press conference, Porter asked if he could say one more thing.
“I just want to thank the fans,” he said. “Obviously, they were unbelievable. I’m glad we could get them the three points and I hope they continue coming and supporting us. We have a very good team this year. I hope they stick with us and keeping coming like they did tonight because, for sure, a lot of our energy came from them. It was a great crowd. It was cold and I know a lot of people could have stayed at home and watched it on TV, but it meant a lot that they came and we appreciate that.”
Captain Jonathan Mensah later echoed his coach’s comments.
“It’s a choice to come out into the cold to support your team,” Jona said. “I know they always make the right choice and they did tonight. We really appreciate their love and their support, and we don’t take that for granted. We appreciate the sacrifices they do throughout the season for us.”
Saturday matched the largest opening day victory in Crew history. The only other time the Crew opened with a 4-0 win was in the inaugural game in club history, a 4-0 win over D.C. United in 1996.
Ricci Greenwood was a member of that team, so I want to conclude by circling back to the concept of Crewsmas oracles. Smokestack guy and Jordan Angeli proved to be correct. Might Ricci Greenwood ultimately prove to be correct too?
This tweet is weightier than you might imagine at first glance. Let’s travel back in time to January 23, 2020:
And then let’s check in on Ricci eleven months later in December 2020:
So when Riccidamus tweets in 2022, we should pay heed. And after establishing an unblemished track record on Saturday, may the 2022 Crewsmas oracles continue to become prophesy.
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